New grant to attract bilingual Spanish-English high school students for careers in healthcare

$1.25 million Science Education Partnership Award received by the Raggio Research Center for work aiming to bring linguistic diversity to STEM-focused fields in Nevada

A new SEPA grant will help the University recruit bilingual English-Spanish students into healthcare and STEM-related fields.

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12/5/2017 | By: Nicole Shearer |

A University of Nevada, Reno project aiming to increase linguistic diversity within the healthcare workforce was recently one of 15 new Science Education Partnership Awards granted in fiscal year 2017. The project is funded for $1.25 million over five years through The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a program of the National Institutes of Health. This is the first SEPA grant awarded in Nevada.

Titled "Community of Bilingual English-Spanish Speakers Exploring Issues in Science and Health," the focus will be on establishing a pipeline of bilingual high school students interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-healthcare fields, including biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research careers.

As part of the project, bilingual students will be introduced to careers in science, technology, engineering and math as well as in healthcare fields including, biomedical, behavioral and clinical research careers.

"The overarching goal for this grant is to fill the Nevada healthcare employment pipeline with a more diverse population," Ruben Dagda, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and co-principal investigator for the grant, said. "This is a workforce development grant as much as it is an education grant."

According to the Association of Medical Colleges, 27.5 percent of the population in Nevada identifies as Hispanic or Latino, yet only 3.4 percent of physicians in the state identify as Hispanic or Latino. Based on U.S. Census estimates in 2016, 11.5 percent of healthcare practitioners and technical occupations in Nevada are filled by Hispanics or Latinos. At medical schools, Hispanic, Latino, or students of Spanish origin comprise only six percent of total enrollment in the U.S.

"We know this program has the potential for success," Dagda said. "Stanford is already doing a similar program; however, the difference is that our focus is on bilingual Spanish-English speaking students."

Community of Bilingual English-Spanish Speakers Exploring Issues in Science and Health will be an interdisciplinary partnership between the Raggio Research Center, University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine and University Community Health Sciences. Jacque Ewing-Taylor, research assistant professor in the Center for the Application of Substance Abuse Technologies, and co-principal investigator, said the project will target junior and senior Spanish-English bilingual high school students in low-income and rural areas of northern Nevada including Washoe County, Carson City, Douglas County, Lyon County and Story County.

"We plan to recruit 30 to 45 students every year, targeting mid-junior-year students who are at the juncture in their life when they are making career decisions," Ewing-Taylor said. "Recruiting for our first cohort will start in the spring."

This project will offer students ongoing mentorship, a three-week on-campus summer research program between students' junior and senior year, along with support in advocating a career in healthcare. Once undergraduates, students will become leadership trainees for a subsequent cohort of high school students.

"One of our goals is to leverage the resources we have here at the University and out in the community," Dagda said. "We've already partnered with the IDeA Network Biomedical Research Excellence for help recruiting students in the rural communities and have recruited professional mentors with careers in the healthcare arena."

"As part of this project, we will build a leadership team, a Community of Practice, that contributes to the development and management of the program comprised of individuals who are most affected by the scope of the project," Jenica Finnegan, project coordinator, said. "With this group of individuals who share similar concerns about the lack of bilingual speakers in the healthcare industry and the low number of Hispanic and Latino students pursuing these careers, we can leverage their knowledge, ideas and expertise to help inform the project."

"Many Community of Practice members have been identified and some even contributed to the project in the proposal phase. We will continue to identify more professionals to engage and eventually, the family members and parents of students will also participate. "

For those interested in more information about the grant, contact Jenica Finnegan, project coordinator for Community of Bilingual English-Spanish Speakers Exploring Issues in Science and Health, jfinnegan@unr.edu.

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